Intersectional Confessional: My take on White Feminism abroad

The moments I have looked forward to most each day here in Rabat, Morocco have been my daily walks to school. Each stroll I take positions a cross-cultural understanding, from forcing a slower pace trekking behind the elderly on their way to the mosque in the medina to busting out my quick city walk down the youth heavy Mohammed V Avenue. I can silently observe a culture in action and simultaneously blend amongst these people as if I was one of their own. I exist in a unique position of privilege here in Rabat. As a brown man, I avoid both the

Margaux Armfield | Staff Artist

immediate perception of the white American tourist my peers face and the incessant street harassment and objectification common to the female experience. I feel like I have been able to experience Morocco from the inside.

My experience is unlike many of my peers in my program. While Moroccans will approach me in colloquial Dareja, my female friends tell me about how they fear the walk home from school. I bear witness as men will holler sexual innuendos, follow them to their destination and even spit in their faces. Watching and listening to these experiences has forced me to really struggle with allyship. As we understand allyship to be a verb, I want to elevate my male privilege and challenge these men. I cannot dignify myself as a true ally when I am inactive in these situations of injustice. Our study abroad coordinators were indignant in reaffirming to not validate these street harassers in fear of any potential danger, yet my upbringing around social justice has taught me that this is the cost of privilege. If I am to be an ally to the woman’s cause, I should not be silent because I fear the danger that my female friends are constantly exposed to. In my interactions with the white students in my program, however, our conversations about street harassment truly lack a lens of intersectionality, as is common to the plight of whiteness in international intercultural communication.

As a participant in a program that is comprised of approximately 75 percent white students, I am reminded of the suffocating whiteness I attempted to escape from my campus back home. What more can I do but roll my eyes and exhale when my white peers tokenize Moroccan culture for Instagram posts and trivialize the Islamic experience as their opportunity to “discover themselves in Africa.” I am exhausted by the reductive and dehumanizing talk of Arab people. I bring up my struggle with allyship because many of the women I find myself wanting to support in face of blatant sexism also uphold the ideals of white supremacy which take front in all that I aim to challenge.

Common to the reaction of catcalling and street harassment of my American female peers has been the sentiment that “all Moroccan men are disgusting” or the “men here make me want to vomit.” When we specify and then generalize an ethnicity, we uphold racism and ethnocentrism in all of forces of white supremacy. To say all Moroccan men are disgusting is to somehow excuse white Western men from any chance of patriarchal sexism pertinent to the woman’s cause. It is troubling to me when some of the white females in my program will fawn over the compliments and attention of the white American men in the program but reduce Moroccan men as disgusting when they practice the same objectifying language. While neither sexist talk of women should be tolerated in any context, I have noticed that while abroad, the white men always seem to get a pass because of their whiteness.

About a week ago, I was walking down the street and caught view of one of my female friends. I excitedly yelled hello to her, but she would not look at me and kept walking forward. After many loud greetings directed towards her, I finally ran in front of her and caught her attention. Relieved, she told me that from the corner of her eye she thought I was a Moroccan man harassing and catcalling her. As I carry this brown skin day to day, I also carry every single generalization people have made in their minds about brown skin. And now, for many of the American white women I am studying abroad with, this brown skin has added a layer of fear for them. I cannot take any predicament with women fearing men from past actions, but this experience truly made me think about what kinds of men women are taught to fear. What types of men are being excused for their repetition of sexism in society and what color of men are being punished for it?

How do we combat patriarchy without villainizing men of color? In Morocco, where the majority of men are men of color, how do we displace this patriarchal indictment from the racial context of the country? Many people I have discussed with, Moroccan and American alike, dismiss catcalling and street harassment as culture. “It’s what they do here, it’s not your place to challenge it.” This notion is invariably problematic because it supports the ideal that men of different cultures, and typically men of color, are more sexist than white men and their culture is somehow the reasoning behind it. In this context, we cannot allow culture and sexism to exist hand in hand. The problem of catcalling and street harassment is not unique to Morocco and associating it with Moroccan culture is an exercise that is a provocation of xenophobia and racism. No Moroccan individual I have met is proud of the way that women are treated on the streets and if Western women and men also contribute to reporting and policing these harassments then maybe we can pursue a unified fight against the patriarchy.

I can usually forgive most of these dehumanizing comments about Arab men in light of horrific treatment many women have faced just walking on the streets. What has really provoked me, however, has been the talk of this perpetual stare. My white peers will often comment on how uncomfortable their walks around anywhere in Morocco have been because of the way that people will stare at them. The way that white people are stared at in Morocco is by no means a form of oppression. White people are held on the utmost pedestal in countries even where they are the minority. As I walk into Moroccan clothing stores and supermarkets, I constantly see white models portraying Moroccan brands and clothes. My white American friends on dating apps in Morocco experience almost a hundred percent match rate because sexual superiority still leans to white people even amongst individuals who have never even met a white person. Whiteness is an entitlement to be at the center of a revolving world, to find comfort wherever you go. The complaints of the lack of similarity to the western world (not having bars/clubs, having different cuisines, listening to the adhan five times a day) are not transgressions against Moroccan society, they’re an indication of a continuing function of white entitlement. By complaining that this society is too different from your own, but also expecting that your stay here in Morocco should be modeled after your Western experience epitomizes the projection of white supremacy.

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